Regardless of the rising transboundary pollution in oil and gas production, unconventional production globally has been of high attention. This essay examines the negative effects of oil and gas and the impact of existing environmental laws. Increased air pollution leads to the aggravation of asthma and other respiratory conditions. Levels of air pollution from oil and gas production are widespread and encompass impact on the physical environment, biological locations, and effects on people nearby. Dust and small particles such as silica sand cause silicosis, a serious lung condition, and increase the likelihood of lung cancer. Destructive effects of air pollution in oil and gas industries may be lessened by ensuring successful integration of laws and environmental discussions into the development and well-organised usage of land and other resources. Even though the application of a production volume threshold might be vital in making decisions concerning the suitability of subjecting oil sands extraction procedures to an Energy Information Administration (EIA), the quantity produced might be a pointer of the rate of extraction activities that may continue.
All nations across the globe are strongly reliant on energy for communication, generation of food, transportation, manufacturing of different products, maintenance of services, and national defence to mention a few. As the international requirement for oil and gas increasingly rises mainly attributable to enhanced consumption by emerging economies, countries are facing concerns of conventional sources of energy. The decrease in conventional oil generation might have been caused by numerous aspects such as natural diminution, non-renewability of the supply, and interruptions emanating from local reactions to the socio-environmental influences of the production of oil. Despite the rising transboundary pollution attributable to oil and gas production, unconventional production internationally has been of high interest.1The generation of shale gas or tight gas via hydraulic fracturing is deemed a vital means of generating revenue and a significant component in the energy policy. This paper discusses harmful effects of oil and gas emissions such as air pollution, in addition to the contribution of international environmental law (IEL), which seeks to control pollution, in addition to the conservation of natural resources, on the context of sustainable development. Governments have been experiencing mounting pressure from residents who are apprehensive of environmental effects. Such factors have led to an intensive search for unconventional oil resources that are precisely difficult and costly to exploit over and above their posing exceedingly high environmental hazards. There is a need to ensure strict enforcement of international environmental law to protect people against the effects of air pollution caused by the oil and gas industry, in addition to the considerable national interests that are at stake.
The Impact of the Oil and Gas Industry on Environment
In addition to the international influence of fracking, there is a detrimental impact on the people residing close to extraction fields. Loads of ancillary elements occurring at such sites may result in health issues that encompass irritation of the nose, mouth, eyes, and throat. Moreover, increased air pollution can result in aggravation of asthma, as well as other respiratory diseases. Fracking-associated practices have been established to emit nitrogen oxides and unstable organic components that form smog, which divests workers and local communities of fresh air.2 Additionally, with the generation of oil and gas, there are also vital environmental and socio-economic problems. The exploitation of petroleum results in oil sands, a combination of sand, heavy oil, water, and different minerals, which cannot be extracted by typical production techniques but necessitate rigorous technical approaches. The processes of extraction widely employed include in situ drilling and surface mining. The method used depends on the depth of the deposit in the ground. In the two techniques, there is the application of an energy and water-exhaustive advancement process that leads to the generated bitumen being processed into a light artificial crude oil before shipment to refineries for other processes. Even though minimal is known concerning the degree of the possible environmental impact of the underlying process, underlying effects are quite noteworthy.
Gas and oil sand extraction generate more than five times the quantity of greenhouse gas emissions and utilise fourfold the energy used in conventional processes.3 The actual rate of environmental influence is reliant on the technique of extraction employed. For example, surface mining has a higher forest and water impact when compared with in situ drilling. Moreover, the latter has more greenhouse gas emissions than the former approach. Carbon dioxide emissions that arise from oil sands extraction have adverse medical impacts on human beings.4
The environmental health impact of the Alberta oil sands in Canada has probably been underrated, partially because of insufficient monitoring strategies or intricacy in detected ecological variations linked to either natural resources or anthropogenic aspects.5Other considerable environmental impacts that have been identified include influence on water sustainability, flora, and other forms of natural habitats. Attributable to the extraction and processing of oil using significant quantities of water, the influence on local resources and occupations, especially fishing, is paramount. Therefore, although oil sands activities may be anticipated to offer significant monetary gains to a country, its likely environmental influence in a nation might be equally high to the extent of whitewashing economic benefits if sufficient measures are not implemented.
The scope or scale of environmental effects of oil sands schemes is not essentially anchored in the magnitude of the venture.6 The form of expertise employed in the extraction might be highly decisive. For example, in situ method may have a less environmental impact when compared with surface mining technique (apart from greenhouse gas emissions) but would be more expensive. Additionally, the number of individuals residing in each region might raise or lower the extent of the direct influence of the project.7 Nevertheless, the moment effects on global warming are considered, such an affirmation of the impact loses some relevance. This is attributable to the fact that the influence of global warming is not restricted to the geographical scale of the undertakings. A strongly integrated practice would be for the involvement to be determinably rooted in the level of public welfare in the plan as it would enable recorded criteria, over and above other facets that might be found necessary, to be measured.8
Air Pollution Levels Caused by the Oil and Gas Industry
The levels of air pollution generated in oil and gas production are extensive and could be broken down into impact on physical environment, biological settings, and effects on human beings. Unconventional extraction of hydrocarbon, also referred to as fracking, is among the most debatable concerns ecological and development regulation.9Wide-ranging unconventional extraction processes are being carried out in many countries across the globe. For instance, exploratory drilling is done in Germany, India, Australia, Romania, the United Kingdom, and Poland with large scale commercial extraction ongoing in China, the United States, and Canada.10 Nonetheless, with the spread of the shale gas revolution encompassing the recognition of possible new fields in Europe, the political undercurrents of fracking have become highly confrontational and indeterminate.
Emissions from major well advance in a community or a broader geographical area might have a vital impact on air quality. Verschuuren affirms that such effects may be caused by increased ozone level, which harms people’s respiratory health.11 A considerable discharge of methane, a greenhouse gas that is more inviolable than carbon dioxide, arises in the process of hydraulic fracturing.12 Drilling may also result in minor seismic occurrences attributable to fracturing and strong earthquakes while the practice happens along extant geological fault lines.
Noise pollution has been felt both at the preparation stage and in the production point. At the preparation stage, the noise coming from mining activities, earthmoving, construction endeavours, and continuous movement of vehicles has a possible influence on inhabitants and wildlife in the region, especially in sensitive places.13 Nevertheless, high noise pollution is generated at the production stage in activities such as hydraulic fracturing, drilling of the well, and gas flaring. Since such activities occur throughout the day, both people and wildlife nearby are disturbed and disrupted. In the United States, the federal administration has the mandate of regulating hydraulic fracturing since the shale gas sector has a huge impact on interstate business progressions. Therefore, environmental consequences from energy generation and amenities are dependent on existing federal regulations that include the Clean Air Act.
A tremendous and usually unappreciated influence of fracking is air pollution. Irrespective of water concerns having exceedingly high attention of both the public and press, there is mounting clarity that the reported fracking-related health issues are majorly attributable to air pollution. This occurs because of air pollution being experienced right from the commencement of the drilling process and the difficulty of evading exposure to it. Contrary to existing beliefs, the impact of water pollution takes a long time to appear, and it may require many years for casings on wells to get damaged, thereby causing leakage.14 A predominantly severe impact of air pollution caused by the oil and gas industry is ozone since it is a strong lung irritant that leads to asthmatic attacks, in addition to other breathing problems. It may be generated from reactions between nitrogen oxides produced from emissions by diesel-driven machines and the leakage of methane hence leading to increased ozone level. This makes people living nearby to constantly have shortness of breath, nose bleeding, and watery eyes.
Ground-level ozone, which is an element of smog, results in expensive and high priority community health hazard. Exposure to high quantities of ozone in the oil and gas industry leads to the irreversible impairment of the lungs and considerably augments the probability of premature death. Additionally, many other chemicals that are generated in natural gas during extraction processes (encompassing sulphide, benzene, and hydrogen) have a tremendous impact on air quality. Furthermore, there is a need to mull over the entire oil and gas extraction and production endeavours, among other influences of such advances. Concerning influences on the air quality in an area, emissions from vehicles and other machines employed in the drilling and production phases have a strong blend of toluene, xylene, and benzene, in addition to other volatile organic compounds. The quantity of dust generated in the fields is worth considering because drilling practices and linked site traffic generate it in considerable degrees.15 Moreover, small particles such as silica sand employed in hydraulic fracturing may be a root source of silicosis, a severe lung condition, and augments the chances of suffering lung cancer. Since cancer has a long latency phase, it is not currently apparent in some communities living near oil and gas fields. Nevertheless, in about ten years from now, elevation in cases of cancer among such people has a high likelihood of occurring.16
The Possible Ways to Reduce the Harmful Effects
Harmful effects of air pollution in oil and gas industries may be reduced by ensuring effective incorporation of laws and environmental deliberations into the progress and efficient usage of land and other resources. Existing views require monitoring effects on the environment at all stages of the project from its commencement to its conclusion.17 This assists in the prediction and recognition of the negative and positive societal and ecological effects, which enable implementation of alleviation or compensatory policies for harmful impacts. Furthermore, monitoring makes it easy to establish approaches that are less destructive to the environment and that satisfy aims of the project and determinations of the engaged stakeholders.
The high sensitivity of oil and gas fields demands comprehensive environmental attentiveness. Energy Information Administration (EIA), a section of the U.S. Department of Energy, establishes alternatives and moderation practices to decrease negative environmental effects of a project. Although the application of a production capacity threshold might be valuable in making decisions regarding the suitability of subjecting oil sands extraction processes to an EIA evaluation, the volume produced may act as a pointer of the level of extraction endeavours that may continue.18 Contrary views affirm that constant monitoring of the arising effects is not a useful indicator of environmental destruction that might occur since the production level that arises each day might be only a function of the form of extraction expertise applied and not anything else. Additionally, this happens in both in situ and surface mining extraction techniques.19 The in-situ oil sands process, which utilises steam-propelled gravity drainage systems in the extraction of bitumen has been found to generate considerable ecological effects notwithstanding the quantity produced.
To determine the possibility of subjecting an oil sand project or activity to an EIA assessment, one would have to use the integrated approach.20 The technique involves establishing the magnitude, the possible impact that the project would have on the environment, to determine a considerable minimum level that would prevent pollution.21 IEL helps in establishing the scale of the impression that the project would have on the surroundings with the condition that none of the factors shall be regarded as causing pollution.22 It also facilitates future growth through safeguarding the environment, preserving biodiversity, promoting human health, and supporting social and cultural ethics.
Tracking the change of certain resources of the human and natural environments impacted by the project with the ultimate goal of confirming assumptions relating to the plan, ecological performance, and the mitigation strategy effectiveness, is deemed necessary to help reduce or prevent destructive or negative influence and is referred to as post-assessment monitoring. Through monitoring, relevant authorities on matters relating to the environment can guarantee that the proponent of the project will stick to their conservational duty throughout the project until its lifecycle is complete.23 This gives room for the recognition of a breach of the environmental policy developed by the IEL. Monitoring involves taking measurements and keeping records of social, economic, and physical variables relating to projects.
One of the preconditions for achieving sustainable development is good governance. It is regarded as such because of its impact on socio-economic inequalities and development of the financial system, whether directly or indirectly. A government’s capacity to execute laws upon making them and to successfully deliver services, without underrating the democratic state of that regime; that is, whether it values majority rule or not, is known as governance. Every form of governance entails a structure of authoritative institutions, rules, norms, and practices through which an institution, ranging from local to global, conducts its affairs.24 Governance relates more with rules that control interactions than results of collaboration even though positive outcomes would be seen in a setup where good administration exists.25 Nevertheless, structure, as well as processes, are components of good governance.26 While structure would typically relate to institutions and their stakeholders, processes are associated with the manner of social associations by which individuals engage in making and implementing rules and in the supply of goods collectively. Nwapi and Nliam famously articulated institutions as principles of the game or the physically devised limits that form human relations.27
If in a country the government will not or is unable to perform its responsibility in safeguarding rights and guaranteeing the efficiency and effectiveness of management of the public sector, then the nation is considered to have weak governance.28 Many African countries have not shown effectiveness when it comes to enforcing and implementing laws relating to environmental conservation and the prevention of air pollution; a good example is Madagascar.29 This depicts a clear picture of how casually governments might respond to oil sand projects, thereby negatively affecting the human population and infringing their rights, especially for communities living in rural areas.
With each succeeding government in Madagascar and other nations where air pollution is extensive, new environmental rules are set up without revoking the previous ones. This results in the existence of many rules and regulations that at times contradict and issue unclear roles for regulators, aside from overlapping functions that are hard to harmonise and reconcile.30 Perspectives drawn from project operators suggest that this yields confusion on which rules should be followed and adhered to at a given time.31 This hinders outstanding conduct and effectiveness of the project hence resulting in weak or wrongly implemented mitigation measures. The spread of corruption all over the state of Madagascar worsens the problem as many holders of office, mainly politicians and corporation managers, have a great influence in the regulatory processes for approval of projects.32 Therefore, successful reduction of air pollution and its harmful effects necessitates clear rules, good governance, and strict laws.
The International Laws Regulating Air Pollution
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) represents a global treaty on ecological concerns mainly associated with emissions, alleviation, and adaptation of greenhouse gases. During the 21st meeting in France, legislatures from all nations agreed to the adoption of the set measures, COP21. Such measures were enforced towards the end of 2016. 160 nations endorsed the climate consensus before 2018.33 The Paris agreement is presently legally binding, although it does not have legal provisions that could enable a country to embark on national actions.34 To counter arising views, Edu states that even if the guidelines set to prevent pollution are not identical, they can be transformed into the carbon dioxide equivalent with the aid of the Global Warming Potential of every greenhouse gas.35 Principles of Global Warming Potential are incorporated in a century’s schedule and hence are not precise actions of the immediate heating impact.36 Carbon dioxide emissions are indicated in the form of carbon gigatons.37
The objective of COP21 is to maintain an international temperature rise of less than 2°C by 2100 over and above upholding attempts to restrict the augment of temperature to 1.5°C beyond pre-industrial extents.38 Discussions to create UNFCCC started back in 1991 at a conference where many countries made their recommendations. It began its operations in 1994 under the approval of 50 member states. The major aim of this climate change treaty is to ensure stabilisation of greenhouse gas levels in the air at an extent that will avert harmful anthropogenic meddling with the climatic condition.39 Such a quantity ought to be realised within a period that is adequate to have ecosystems suitably and naturally adapt to underlying changes.40 This will ensure that food production across the globe is not at risk, in addition to enabling continued progression of economic activities in a sustainable way.
Other worldwide environmental treaties that tackle climate variations indirectly, apart from the UNFCCC, encompass the 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, which has a legal compulsion to its members to eliminate chlorofluorocarbons. Although this move is motivated by the concerns of the damage of the ozone layer, it is vital for climatic conditions because chlorofluorocarbons are greenhouse gases. Correspondingly, the Geneva Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution has directives that control noxious gas emissions of which some emanate from greenhouse gases. Effective implementation of existing international laws and treaties will adequately tackle the intricate set of interlinked climate matters. The Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution seeks to safeguard the human environment against air pollution while gradually decreasing and avoiding possible pollutants.41 This is an effort of resolving a broad scope of air pollution issues across national borders.42 It has been ratified by the European Monitoring and Evaluation Program and masterminded by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe. From 1979, the Convention has tackled many environmental concerns through scientific deliberations and strategic negotiations. It has resulted in countries avoiding and, where not possible, gradually decreasing and minimising air pollution encompassing their activities across national boundaries. To ensure success in such endeavours, parties create effective regulations and policies that enable them to evade emission of air pollutants while sharing crucial information, engaging in consultations, undertaking research, and monitoring projects.
The major hindrance for the international effectiveness laws that prevent air pollution is in the successful enactment of guidelines, particularly when an organisation is operating in foreign territories. Global normative practices are developed to appeal directly to operations of multinational corporations carrying out transboundary activities with the objective of making sure that they abide by intercontinental human rights and ecological protection guidelines. Remarkably, such international instruments approved the utilisation of fundamental human rights, in addition to environmental protection directives, to private global players.43 Nonetheless, there is currently no practical international approach to enacting the set guidelines and principles. The UN guiding principles, for instance, necessitate countries to give access to vital national legal and non-jurisdictive strategies that tackle business-associated human rights violations.44
The UN guiding principles on prevention of air pollution appear to restrict access to remedies in some situations where such practices happen within a territory, therefore, debatably negating the probability of access to internal remedies for mishandlings carried out by organisations abroad.45 A successful international law response, in particular scopes of economic undertakings considered ultra-risky from an ecological standpoint, is to generate global compensation plans that are intended to uphold practices of non-state private multinational economic players.46 Instances of such endeavours include the global civil liability and compensation schemes (reached by treaties) for spillage during transportation by tankers, pollution in the course of oil and gas extraction and production, and weakening of nuclear power machinery. Under such plans and international laws, members of the oil and gas industries are obliged to give towards compensatory reserves, which are provided on an international basis.47
Countries across the globe are highly reliant on energy for communication, food production, transportation, manufacturing of diverse products, continuation of services, and national protection. Developing an environmental management and monitoring program is the most feasible goal for conducting an EIA assessment. The program is useful at every stage of a project to reduce and, possibly avert any negative or destructive impacts that the plan would have on the environment. The tool used to accomplish this is the IEL, which necessitates the creation of programs or plans of action in which the main goal is to avoid pollution, ensure environmental conservation, and define how activities have or could have a negative ecological effect. Mitigating negative effects, controlling, monitoring when commissioning, mobilising, constructing, operating, maintaining effectiveness, and plan decommissioning enhance the positive impacts of any project.
The impact of air pollution on the physical surroundings encompasses the influence on climatic situations, water and hydrological sequence, weather, soil and geographical attributes, and air quality. Generally, sufficient laws to direct impact assessment may not have been enforced before beginning the oil and gas extraction projects, are lacking, or where there is the existence of such rules, the process of implementing them is weak. In many countries, the people responsible for implementing the laws in the state are either not in a position to do so or are not committed to enforcing them. Strict implementation of international environmental laws will protect people against the impact of air pollution and safeguard extensive national interests that are at risk. Therefore, for oil and gas industries to ensure an effective reduction of air pollution and its negative effects, there is a need for strong rules, respectable governance, and stringent laws.
- Allan Ingelson & Chilenye Nwapi, ‘Environmental Impact Assessment Process for Oil, Gas and Mining Projects in Nigeria: A Critical Analysis’ (2014) 10/1 Law, Environment, and Development Journal 35
- Antero Ollila, ‘Challenging the Scientific Basis of The Paris Climate Agreement’ (2019) 11/1 International Journal of Climate Change Strategies and Management 18
- Chilenye Nwapi & Oscar Nliam, ‘EIA Legislation and Sustainable Development of Oil Sands Projects in Madagascar: A Critical Assessment’ (2018) 36/1 Journal of Energy & Natural Resources Law 103
- Damien Short et al., ‘Extreme Energy, ‘Fracking’ and Human Rights: A New Field for Human Rights Impact Assessments?’ (2015) 19/6 International Journal of Human Rights 697
- David Ong, ‘Regulating Environmental Responsibility for the Multinational Oil Industry: Continuing Challenges for International Law’ (2015) 11/2 International Journal of Law in Context 153
- David Ong, ‘The Environmental Challenges of Shale Gas Extraction: North American and European Legal Perspectives’, in Tina Hunter ed., Handbook of Shale Gas Law and Policy – Economics, Access, Law and Regulation in Key Jurisdictions 237-59 (Cambridge: Intersentia, 2016).
- Eghosa Ekhator, ‘Public Regulation of the Oil and Gas Industry in Nigeria: An Evaluation’ (2016) 21/1 Annual Survey of International & Comparative Law 43
- Hari Osofsky, ‘Climate Change and Environmental Justice: Reflections on Litigation over Oil Extraction and Rights Violations in Nigeria’ (2010) 1/2 Journal of Human Rights and the Environment 189
- Jonathan Verschuuren, ‘Hydraulic Fracturing and Environmental Concerns: The Role of Local Government’ (2015) 27/3 Journal of Environmental Law 431
- Kaj Hobér, ‘Recent Trends in Energy Disputes’, in Kim Talus ed., Research Handbook on International Energy Law 225-40 (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2014).
- Kim Talus, ‘Oil and Gas: International Petroleum Regulation’, in Kim Talus ed., Research Handbook on International Energy Law 243-60 (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2014).
- Kingsley Edu, ‘A Review of the Existing Legal Regime on Exploitation of Oil and the Protection of the Environment in Nigeria’ (2011) 37/2 Commonwealth Law Bulletin 307
- Lakshman Guruswamy & Mariah Leach, International Environmental Law in a Nutshell (5th edn, Saint Paul, MN: West Academic Publishing, 2017).
- Lawrence Atsegbua, ‘The Nigerian Oil and Gas Industry Content Development Act 2010: An Examination of Its Regulatory Framework’ (2012) 36/4 OPEC Energy Review 479
- Mehdi Piri & Michael Faure, ‘The Effectiveness of Cross-Border Pipeline Safety and Environmental Regulations (under International Law)’ (2014) 40 North Carolina Journal of International Law & Commercial Regulation 55
- Mohd Naseem & Saman Naseem, ‘World Petroleum Regimes’, in Kim Talus ed., Research Handbook on International Energy Law 149-80 (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2014).
- Ole Pedersen & Anthony Zito, ‘Fracking Frames and the Courts’ (2018) 20/4 Environmental Law Review 202
- Patricia Park, ‘International Law on Oil and Gas’, in Patricia D. Park, International Law for Energy and the Environment 75-105 (Boca Raton, Fla: CRC Press, 2013).
- Rae Lindsay et al., ‘Human Rights Responsibilities in the Oil and Gas Sector: Applying the UN Guiding Principles’ (2013) 6/1 Journal of World Energy Law & Business 2
- Uzuazo Etemire & Menes Muzan, ‘Governance and Regulatory Strategies Beyond the State: Stakeholder Participation and the Ecological Restoration of Ogoniland’ (2017) 26/2 Griffith Law Review 275
- Yasminah Beebeejaun, ‘Exploring the Intersections Between Local Knowledge and Environmental Regulation: A Study of Shale Gas Extraction in Texas and Lancashire’ (2017) 35/3 Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space 417
- Nwapi & Nliam, 2018, p. 103.
- Pedersen & Zito, 2018, p. 202.
- Nwapi & Nliam, 2018, p. 107.
- Etemire & Muzan, 2017, p. 275.
- Ong, 2015, p. 153.
- Pedersen & Zito, 2018, p. 204.
- Osofsky, 2010, p. 189.
- Ong, 2015, p. 155.
- Talus, 2014, p. 11.
- Beebeejaun, 2017, p. 417
- Verschuuren, 2015, p. 439.
- Pedersen & Zito, 2018, p. 203.
- Verschuuren, 2015, p. 431.
- Etemire & Muzan, 2017, p. 276.
- Short et al., 2015, p. 697.
- ibid 710.
- Ong, 2016, p. 6.
- Nwapi & Nliam, 2018, p. 103.
- Ingelson & Nwapi, 2014, p. 35.
- Nwapi & Nliam, 2018, p. 119.
- ibid 120.
- Guruswamy & Leach, 2017, p. 17.
- Hobér, 2014, p. 8.
- Ong, 2016, p. 11.
- Nwapi & Nliam, 2018, p. 126.
- ibid 126.
- ibid 127.
- ibid 129.
- Edu, 2011, p. 307.
- Nwapi & Nliam, 2018, p. 127.
- Piri & Faure, 2014, p. 55.
- Nwapi & Nliam, 2018, p. 127.
- Nwapi & Nliam, 2018, p. 103.
- Edu, 2011, p. 308.
- Ollila, 2019, p. 20.
- Ong, 2015, p. 156.
- Ollila, 2019, p. 20.
- ibid 21.
- Atsegbua, 2012, p. 479.
- Ekhator, 2016, p. 43.
- Ong, 2015, p. 156.
- Naseem & Naseem, 2014, p. 34.
- Park, 2013, p. 12.
- Ong, 2015, p. 156.
- ibid 156.
- Lindsay et al., 2013, p. 2.
- Atsegbua, 2012, p. 478.